Oman


arabdhow

This is to note that I have received a research grant from the Qatar Foundation for a study of indigenous knowledge of the seasons and time-telling in the Gulf. I have created a separate webpage to indicate progress through updates on the progress. This page is at http://tabsir.net/?page_id=2903


The GCC States and the Viability of a Strategic Military Partnership with China

By Imad Mansour, Qatar University, The Middle East Institute, Mar 17, 2015

The term “strategic partnership” has been increasingly used in GCC circles to signify that relations with China are important and worthy of long-term investment. In a March 14, 2014 speech during his visit to Beijing, Saudi Arabia’s then Crown Prince Salman announced that “we are witnessing the transformation of the relationship with China to one of strategic partnership with broad dimensions, to the benefit of both our countries.”[1] Saudi Arabia’s position was echoed by the emir of Qatar during a 2014 visit to China in which issues of common concern to all GCC states, especially combating terrorism, were discussed.[2] Abdel-Aziz Aluwaisheg, GCC general assistant secretary for negotiations and strategic dialogue, has also noted that there is growing interest in the Gulf to develop a “strategic dialogue” with China.[3]

Despite this growing GCC recognition of China’s strategic role in the region, what exactly a “strategic partnership” or “strategic dialogue” would look like remains unclear. This essay discusses why officials in GCC member states might be hesitant to embrace the idea of China as a viable strategic military partner, while at the same time recognizing the need to further develop relations with China.

Securing Independent Military Capabilities

From the perspective of GCC leaders, the main military advantage of partnership with China is Beijing’s potential willingness to provide weapons that the United States is currently reluctant to sell. Given the United States’ lukewarm responses to recent regional unrest, the GCC countries are seeking to augment their independent capabilities, and China could be an important supplier, whether or not it is a full “strategic partner.”[4] These GCC views are based on the understanding that as economic interdependence grows, China might be more willing to provide advanced weapons systems in greater quantities. It is important to note that looking to China for arms sales is consistent with the GCC states’ broader strategy of expanding their network of suppliers.[5]

However, GCC leaders continue to assess the benefits of such an arrangement through the prism of their enduring relationship with the United States. This is largely due to historical momentum. GCC states have long procured most of their military hardware, training, intelligence systems, and combat systems directly from the U.S. government or from American businesses. In addition, the United States and its allies share GCC concerns about containing regional conflicts in Iraq and Syria, as well as the region-wide threat posed by al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates.[6] Furthermore, it seems that despite its reluctance to sell certain weapons directly to the GCC, the United States has tacitly approved GCC purchases of such weapons from China.[7] This balance―whereby the United States sells the GCC most of its conventional weapons systems, while GCC states purchase other approved weapons elsewhere―allows the GCC to accrue the benefits of remaining within the U.S. umbrella while also buttressing its defenses. Obtaining military hardware from China that the United States has not approved would involve an extremely delicate diplomatic game—one in which the GCC stands to lose more than it would currently gain. (more…)


Urban structure of Doha until the 1960s; Source: Scharfenort 2012 (Exhibition in Msheireb Enrichment Center)

The second issue of the new journal Arabian Humanities, with selections in both English and French, is now available online here.

The table of contents is reproduced below:

Juliette Honvault
Éditorial
Villes et dynamiques urbaines en péninsule Arabique
Cities and Urban Dynamics in the Arabian Peninsula

Claire Beaugrand, Amélie Le Renard et Roman Stadnicki
Au-delà de la Skyline : des villes en transformation dans la péninsule Arabique [Texte intégral]
Beyond the Skyline: Cities in Transformation in the Arabian Peninsula [Texte intégral | traduction]

Nelida Fuccaro
Preface: Urban Studies in the Arabian Peninsula: 6 Thoughts on the Field [Texte intégral]
Préface : Les études urbaines en péninsule Arabique
1. Croissances, politiques et projets
Growth paths, politics and projects

Brigitte Dumortier
Ras al‑Khaïmah, l’essor récent d’une ville moyenne du Golfe [Texte intégral]
Ras al‑Khaimah : the recent dynamics of a middle size city of the Arab‑Persian Gulf

Steffen Wippel
Développement et fragmentation d’une ville moyenne en cours de mondialisation : le cas de Salalah (Oman) [Texte intégral]
Development and Fragmentation of a Globalizing Secondary City: The Case of Salalah (Oman)

Sebastian Maisel
The Transformation of ‘Unayza: Where is the “Paris of Najd” today? [Texte intégral]
La transformation de ‘Unayza : où en est le « Paris du Najd » ?
Philippe Cadène
Koweït City : planification urbaine et stratégie régionale [Texte intégral]
Kuwait City: Urban Planning and Regional Strategy (more…)


Tribesmen voting in al-Ahjur, Central Highlands, 1978

By Elham Manea, The Daily Star, April 6, 2012

February’s presidential election in Yemen by no means marks the end of the country’s troubles. However, the suggestion that the United States host a new arrangement based on decentralized negotiation between tribal and regional leaders is not the way to solve them.

Such a call ignores lessons from Yemen’s past and underestimates the deep changes that have taken place in Yemeni society over the last decades. Although the tribal system continues to operate as the prevalent mode of social organization, it is crucial to recognize that the nature of tribal networks and institutions has changed drastically.

Historically, tribal networks compensated for the state’s lack of capacity. The tribe assumed the role of protector and provider: securing tribal territory, protecting water wells, and resolving conflicts between its members or with other tribes. In many ways, the tribe was the institution of first resort for financial backing and social support in times of crisis. It is perhaps very telling that Aden – where the nuclear family has displaced the tribe as the main social unit – is more affected by poverty than regions that have preserved tribalism, such as Shabwah, Mahra and Al-Dali.

Tribal sheikhs were also once accountable to their constituents: They were elected and could be voted out. Thus, a sheikh was often regarded as a first among equals, rather than an absolute ruler. Custom (Irf) governed the mediation of conflict within or outside the tribe and could not be violated without loss of honor – a distinct disgrace – and threat of severe penalty. (more…)

The Dīwān of Ḥājj Dākōn, published by the American Institute for Yemeni Studies in 2011, is a collection of eighteen poems in the endangered Mahri language of Yemen and Oman, one of the last, non-Arabic indigenous languages of the Arabian Peninsula. This publication marks an important step in the history of the Mahri language since it contains its first literary texts meant for a local readership. Ḥājj Dākōn, a pioneer of modern Mahri sung-poetry, has included an Arabic translation for each Mahri poem, which is supplemented by an English translation and transliteration into Latin characters provided by Samuel Liebhaber. The Dīwān is introduced by commentary that places the innovations of Ḥājj Dākōn’s lyric qaṣīdas in their cultural and linguistic context. A facsimile of Ḥājj’s original handwritten manuscript is included in the Dīwān. Starting in June 2012, audio and visual recordings of each poem in recitation will be accessible online on the site: http://blogs.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/.

Sample poem, #6 from The Dīwān of Ḥājj Dākōn


English translation


Arabic translation


Mahri

(more…)


There is a spectacular photographic website devoted to a book by George Steinmetz, who took photographs across the fabled Empty Quarter of Arabia.

I became captivated by Arabia’s Empty Quarter as a young man when I read Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands. The Empty Quarter is larger than France without a single permanent point of water or human habitation. It’s both the world’s largest sand sea and one of the hottest places on earth, and has only been traversed a handful of times. I didn’t want to repeat Thesiger’s epic journeys many decades later, but when I discovered motorized paragliding I found a way to visualize this remote landscape in a new way. I made three paragliding trips into the sands, first for GEO in Saudi Arabia, and then returned two years later to go from Riyadh to Oman and Yemen for National Geographic, and finally made a personal trip to the southern most reaches of the U.A.E. to complete my field work. What I found was one of the most beautiful and unseen wilderness on earth. On its fringes I encountered elements the oil wealth that has forever changed Arabia, but I also found Bedouins still clinging to traditions, and offering up a level of hospitality that was truly humbling. This body of work would simply not have been possible without their kindness.

Empty Quarter is George’s second book, published by Harry N. Abrams. This is the most extensive compilation of photographs ever taken in the Arabian Desert. Measuring 9.5 x 13 inches, the book has 208 pages with 150 color photos and captions.


In a previous post I continued a thread from an 1879 school geography text. At the time much of the Arab World was under the control, nominal at times, of the Ottoman Empire. This text divided the Ottoman holdings into those in Asia, discussed below, and those in Europe, to be given in a separate post.

1. Arabia is a great plateau, abounding in deserts, and possessing but few fertile districts, except along the coast. Its area is about 1,000,000 square miles.
2. The Climate is the dryest in the world, rain seldom falling anywhere, and the heat being intense, especially in the lowlands and deserts.
Arabia has been divided into three parts: – ARABIA FELIX, happy or fertile; ARABIA PETRAE, stony; and ARABIA DESERTA, desert. The fist of these divisions borders on the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and the Red Sea; the second lies on the northeastern shore of the Red Sea; and the third includes all of the central portion of the country. The cultivated tracts are generally near the mountains, from which rivers descend in the rainy season and thus enrich the soil. Numerous oases re found in the desert regions. (more…)


Omani women refreshing clothing with frankincense smoke

The website of the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center has a number of interesting online pages. One of these is a pictorial history of frankincense and myrrh. Here are some of the tidbits about both of these important trade items:

• Almost all frankincense comes from western Oman, where it is used for everything from deodorant and toothpaste to food and drink flavoring.
• Frankincense and myrrh were so expensive in Europe that southern Arabia became known as Arabia Felix, “Arabia the Blessed.” (more…)

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